The commanding sculpture of the Prophet Elijah above stands on Mount Carmel in northern Israel. It’s a strong sculpture, but I must confess to liking better icons presenting Elijah huddled in his cloak ready to die while a raven hovers behind him offering God’s food for the tough journey he’s called to make. Yes, Elijah was a powerful prophet who forbade the rain to fall and raised the dead, but the Book of Kings tell us that Elijah spent most of his time as a prophet on the run, hiding in caves and wadis, depending on a poor widow for food and shelter.
Whenever I think of Elijah I think of a man who visited us from China about 20 years ago. He had been a seminarian in our seminary in China in the late 1940’s when the communists came to power and began their Cultural Revolution. John was sent to a hard labor camp for “reeducation” because he was a Christian. He was in the camp for almost three years, but when they learned he knew English government officials made him an English teacher in a Chinese high school.
I asked John what he taught. English literature, he told me. He taught Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth” because the Chinese loved Pearl Buck. He also taught bible stories, particularly the Old Testament stories about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and Elijah confronting the evil king Ahab and his wife Jezebel.
Bible stories I asked? Didn’t the officials question him? He told them you can’t understand English literature without knowing the stories of the bible. Whenever I hear the story of the lonely prophet Elijah in a country completely controlled by a powerful regime, yet still faithfully proclaiming the truth, I think of John.